Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not So-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals

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9781451621259: Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not So-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals
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“A treat for any book lover, happily mated or cheerfully single” (USA TODAY)—two popular journalists give hilarious relationship advice borrowed from the most famous characters in literature.

Finding love should be easier than ever before, given all the freedoms we enjoy. But as it turns out, the more options we have, the more difficult attaining romantic bliss becomes. We wonder: Should we put all our energy into online dating, or hang out in bars to find someone new? Should we settle for a friendship-with-benefits, or refuse to stop looking until we happen upon true love? And if we do manage to achieve the impossible and find a perfect match—soul mate, sexual dynamo, and best buddy all in one—how can we beat the relationship doldrums when they come, as they’re bound to in this hyperactive society?

In our quest to reach romantic nirvana, we turn to self-help manuals, magazines, talk shows, friends, relatives, and shrinks. But we’ve overlooked the true font of wisdom: the timeless stories written by great novelists. That’s where Much Ado About Loving comes in. In its pages, two book lovers who are also advice columnists—Maura Kelly and Jack Murnighan—relay the lessons in life and love that they’ve learned from reading more classic novels than your English teacher, while having far more romantic conundrums than all of Jane Austen’s characters combined. They’ve done the heavy reading—and the recovering from heartbreak—for you.

Now all you need is this book.

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About the Author:

Jack Murnighan has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature from Duke University. His book, Beowulf on the Beach helped tens of thousands of readers rediscover their love of the classics. His two previous books, The Naughty Bits and Classic Nasty, were critically acclaimed tours of sexuality in the history of literature. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


INTRODUCTION
Maura Kelly


Ive made a living in a rather peculiar manner over the past few years: by writing about relationships. Unfortunately for mebut fortunately for my careerI always seemed to have a crazy new dating tale to tell. Like the one about the accomplished scientist whod had a thick shaggy mane in every picture hed posted onlinethough in person he was about 94 percent bald. We sat down to dinner at the nice restaurant where hed invited me to dine, and he promptly ordered a banana, despite the fact that individual pieces of fruit in phallic shapes were not on the menu. Charge me whatever youd like! he told the befuddled waitress. Come to think of it, thats more or less what he said to me when the check came. His exact words were: We can split it, or I can pay, or you can pay. Never had I been given so many options. It was after we divvied it up that I made like a banana and split.

Or theres the story about the very tall young gentlemanI use that term looselywho was studying for a PhD in economics at Columbia. Over tapas, he explained that he was kinda stalking another chick but went on to assure me that I had nothing to worry aboutI wasnt pretty enough to make him crazy. I responded with typical unflappability: I locked myself in the bathroom for twenty minutes and sobbed.

There was also the dude I met up with in Prospect Park one summer, after we had a brief phone discussion about our lives and likes, including our favorite foods. He brought his guitar to the rendezvous and serenaded me with a song hed written especially for the occasion. It began: Maura Kelly is a nutter . . . who likes peanut butter. Thats probably as close to immortality in verse as Ill ever get.

Because of my unusual professional specialty, friends and strangers often seek out my adviceasking me about, say, how they should interpret not having heard from a date for a full twenty-four hours since their first hang-out session, how long they should wait before having sex with the person theyve recently begun seeing, or how it might go over if they mention the recent passing of their beloved cat in their Internet dating profile. When this kind of thing first began to happen, it made me really nervous. Im a dating columnist, after allwhich is essentially the opposite of an expert on blissful romantic commitment! Could I really provide helpful counsel?

Heck, I was always turning to friends to ask how they thought I should handle the latest Lothario in my life. In particular, I sought out my cowriter Jack Murnighan. When he and I first got to know each otherafter I was assigned to write a piece about his previous book for The Daily Beasthe dazzled me, and not only with his erudite yet engaging personality. There was, too, the thick gingery hair, the high cheekbones, the strong jaw, the wide smile full of perfect teeth, and enough lady-killing charm to fell an army of Amazons. As if that werent enough, he could effortlessly quote from Proust or cite David Foster Wallace. Jack had spent the better part of his life extracting the wisdom from literature (majoring in philosophy and semiotics at Brown, getting a PhD in literature from Duke); he was an unusual mix of bookworm and pretty boy. Surprising, too, was how incredibly down-to-earth he was. In fact, there was so much to like about him that I was relieved to hear he had a girlfriend; that meant the question of his not being interested in me romantically was removed from the equation.

It began to happen that if I was in Jacks part of town, Id swing by his apartmenta crows nest of a one bedroom, perched high above Chinatown, lined wall to wall to wall with books; wed make some dinner, or have a little tea, and talk about our love lives. He always had the most satisfying takes on mine. Possibly thats because hed once been a very scrawny and lonely boy, so he could relate to my fear that no one would ever understand the truth of my hopeful but hapless heart. Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that he read so much. He could empathize with certain female characterslike self-punishing Katerina from The Brothers Karamazov and underassertive Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouseas much as with me. And hed gathered some great lessons from the brilliant psychologists who have written the worlds great novels.

Not long after we became buddies, I stopped over to see Jack on my way home from a hotel-bar party in SoHo, thrown by the literary journal Open City to celebrate its latest issue. Not one guy had given me the time of day. Did my new black cocktail dress mean nothing to those louts? I was demoralized.

Is there any way for me to become one of those chicks who casts a spell over every dude she meets? I asked Jack. Because there are some women who justI dont knowthey have that je ne sais quoi. Theyre not necessarily outstandingly gorgeous or brilliant or successful . . . but they know how to rock it.

When Jack stood up, I assumed he was going to make me a cup of tea while telling me I shouldnt let it bother me. Instead, he plucked an enormous slab of literary sustenance from his shelf and put it down in front of me: War and Peace.

Read that, Jack said. The character Natasha? Shell show you all you need to know about being alluring.

I frowned. Its rather long, isnt it?

I thought you said Bleak House was one of your favorite novels. Thats long, too.

But its also awesome.

Jack pointed at the cover. Youll love this. You wont be able to put it down.

I will when my arm starts cramping as I try to keep hold of it.

Despite my grousing, I started reading the book. I hadnt had an easy time getting into Anna Karenina but Tolstoys other biggie sucked me right in; a vivid soap opera of love triangles, family dynamics, and bad matches, it deserved its reputation as the worlds most beautifully told epic. But if there was anything particularly illuminating about the behavior of the main female character, Natasha, Id missed it. She was basically just pretty, wasnt she? It wasnt like she was consciously doing anything to make herself more appealing. Right?

Jack was quick to correct my misreading. And once hed explained Natashas secretread his chapter Scorin Piece to find out what it isI had an epiphany worthy of a lightning-struck religious convert.

Eureka!

Like that, I was more in control of my romantic destiny.

When I passed on Jacks instructions to one of my dearest friends, she grumbled, Its not fair that you have Jack all to yourself.

I began to think maybe she was right. I began to think he should write a book about how serious reading can make us all smarter about relationships. And then it occurred to me that we should write it together . . .

Thats how we ended up here.

In these pages, well be considering all kinds of romantic conundrums. Like the case of a young woman who was snubbed by a stuck-up rich kid because he thought her parents were too dclass. Well talk about a dude who just couldnt cure his infatuation with the prettiest girl in town, even though she wouldnt give him the time of day. Well consider a girl who was in love with a guy whose mother was so jealous of her sons crush that she tried to break them up. And well look at a couple in a long-distance relationship who try to keep the flame alive by writing each other long noteseven though theyve never had a meaningful face-to-face conversation.

Are you thinking that Im conversant in such dramatics because my friends have been in predicaments like those I mentioned? Its a good guess, but the examples above were actually pulled from novels that have endured through the years: Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Sons and Lovers, and Love in the Time of Cholera, respectively. Clearly, not much has changed through the centuries when it comes to romance.

Then again, plenty has. The Victorians, for instance, sure werent discussing the statistical appeal of Internet dating sites (like em or not, they up your odds of meeting somebody cool), or trying to determine if a woman would blow her cachet if she pursued a relationship with the guy in her office, or trying to figure out how to handle friendships with benefits. They didnt have to deal with all the strange, new-fangled, often painful methods we have for meeting people. (Speed dating? Ugh.) They had pretty strict dating mores that made things a lot less confusing (if also more constraining) than they are today. They didnt have the same kind of expectations that we do about finding the perfect partnersexual dynamo, emotional stalwart, and best buddy all rolled into one.

Between all the pressure we put on ourselves to find a soul mate and all the possible ways to couple up, its no wonder we single people are a little shell-shocked. Its not surprising that were constantly fretting over our personal livestrying to figure out if the ball is in our court after an ambiguous ending to a date, if we should compromise on that factor we thought was so essential in a mate, if we should swear off the head cases we always find ourselves attracted to . . . and all the rest.

Hoping to arrive at true love much sooner than later, we turn everywhere for answers: self-help books, daytime TV, magazines, radio talk shows, friends, relatives, and shrinks. But the real experts on love have been around for a while, as Jack and I have realized, and their insights ring true generation after generation. Part of the reason the great novelists are so great is because of the timeless lessons they impart.

All the same, we understand that a large part of the reason more people dont read these books is because nobody has the time. Thats why we did it for you; we went through some of our favorite classics, looking for clues that would help us solve todays romantic dilemmas.

But does our simply being voracious ...

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